Nursery Spotlight: Lilypons Offers a Cooling Start to The Summer

lily pads, lilypons, water lilies

 

As hot days and warm nights begin to color the pages of July, there are very few nurseries with display gardens that can boast of peak season. But then, there are very few that have devoted their businesses to the pleasures of the water garden – and July is National Water Gardening Month for a reason.

No one knows this better than the staff at Lilypons Water Gardens, a 250-acre aquatic nursery and retailer in Adamstown, MD. Between lilies and lotus, pickerel & thalia – the bloom is ON at Lilypons – and they’d love for you to come out, bring a picnic, and experience the magic for yourself.

lotus, water gardens

A pink lotus begins its bloom cycle against a background of blooming lilies.

Nationally known. On your doorstep.

If you live in Frederick County and have never been to Lilypons, there are a fair amount of people all over the country that would tell you you’ve been missing out.

Known nationally for its comprehensive selection of aquatic plants, Lilypons’ color catalog has been a coffee table reference for decades, supplying water gardeners with everything they need to create the water feature of their dreams. And, if your dreams don’t involve wader boots, this fourth generation family owned company will even install and maintain those dreams for you.

But the cheerful pink house and surrounding gardens of Lilypons are not just a retail and mail-order hub. They are also a mecca for bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, picnickers and anyone else who wishes to experience the sublime union of flora, fauna, and water.

Early days at Lilypons

Lilypons began life as Three Springs Fisheries in 1917. Founder G. Leicester Thomas dabbled in aquatic plants, but the primary focus of the business was supplying local stores with fish from hundreds of canal-fed earthen ponds.

When a post office was created on the site in the 1930’s to serve the thriving business that now carried the water plants that he loved, Leicester was given the opportunity to name it. Surprisingly, it’s not just 21st century teenagers that can have celebrity crushes – Leicester was a big fan of the French-American operatic singer Lily Pons and he contacted her publicity staff in New York to see if she was agreeable to the idea of having her name franking mail for the next half a century. She was thrilled, and made a point of having all her Christmas cards sent through the little post office until her death in 1976.

In 1978, Leicester’s grandson Charles changed the name of the company to Lilypons Water Gardens to reflect the transition to aquatic plants that the business had begun to make in response to new market realities.

Water gardens for everyone at Lilypons

The water garden game was changing. Thanks to an emerging plastics industry, previously concrete or earthen ponds were no longer the purview of the very rich. Suddenly, everyday gardeners could afford to install a beautiful water feature in their gardens using heavy-duty liners or fiberglass shapes – and Lilypons was there to help them do it. They’ve been doing it ever since.

water lilies, water garden

Intent on his work, staff member, Robert Melby divides water lilies on a hot summer’s day.

 

From tropical and hardy water lilies in every color to native aquatic plants for the boggy margins of your pond or garden, Lilypons specializes in providing not only plant material, but guidance for gardeners quite literally out of their depth when it comes to a whole new genre.

Don’t anything about water gardens?  Lilypons will help.

They’ll walk you through the often overwhelming process of choosing the type of water feature you want, siting it well, providing adequate filtration, selecting plants for different depths; and, in deference to a 100 year history that began with fauna, not flora – they’ll even provide koi, goldfish, tadpoles and snails to keep that pond healthy and balanced. Every member of the staff has a pond of their own – so they speak from experience.

Suzanne Boom is the Operations Manager at Lilypons and has been with the company for 15 years after coming to the United States from The Netherlands. She walks me around the ponds and property on a morning in late June, and I comment on the thigh-high waders that she wears every day, regardless of the heat.

“We all wear them,” she smiles. “You get used to it after a while.” Those waders allow staff to select the best plants for customers on a moment’s notice, or spend an afternoon working in lily and lotus ponds that will be blooming all summer – the best time to visit.

Lilypons: Wildlife…Water…Wonderful

Walking through a lovely collection of small, residential display ponds, we make our way over to the ‘Retirement Pond,’ – a huge body of water flanked with pickerel rush blooming bright purple against a blue sky. Customers are welcomed to bring their too-big koi here, where they will live out their days being fed by visitors on a floating viewing platform. There are hundreds.

 

pickerel rush, water gardens, lilypons

‘Rivers’ of native pickerel rush greet the visitor on the drive up to the nursery.

 

Lilypons Water Gardens is open Monday through Saturday, 10-5, July through September and closed on July 4th. For a complete list of hours, visit www.lilypons.com

“People don’t understand how big koi can get.” she says, “or they have heard the myth that koi will only grow as large as the pond that can support them.” As we stand there, magnificent specimens swim up looking for a handful of something yummy. Sometimes they’re joined by a resident snapping turtle who also likes to nibble at the food that the retail center sells by the bag to visitors. A pair of bald eagles nests nearby on the Monocacy and often hunt here. As we visit with the fish, one soars overhead. Lilypons is pulling out all the stops for my visit.

Suzanne walks me past picnic tables and a two story viewing platform to another large pond, the shape of which is modelled after Monet’s pond at Giverny. It’s filled with the pink, hundred-petaled waterlily named after Lily Pons herself. As I snap photo after photo, she shows me the newest excitement at Lilypons: the exclusive introduction for their 100th anniversary of two hardy purple water lilies – a breakthrough in hybridization by West Virginian breeder Mike Giles.

 

Purple fantasy water lily, lilypons

‘Purple Fantasy,’ one of two hardy purple water lilies introduced for Lilypons’ 100th anniversary last year.

 

‘Purple Fantasy’ is a study in deepest violet contrasted with golden sepals. “Garry Wagner” is the lighter of the two, with bright yellow sepals and petals that flush lavender from white. Up until this time, a customer looking for purple flowers had to choose from tropical selections that were not guaranteed to go dormant in a Maryland garage. These are hardy in zones 3-10.

For Margaret Koogle, great-granddaughter of Leicester and owner of Lilypons, the second lily holds a special place in her heart. It’s named after Garry Wagner who worked at the nursery for 50 years and was a constant part of her childhood. He passed away just before it was introduced.

100 years later, Lilypons is still looking forward

Margaret took over ownership of Lilypons last year and is very excited about its future. Over the next few years, they’ll be working on further enhancing the display gardens, creating special events to showcase the nursery in bloom, and will continue working with breeders to bring original, innovative selections to market that reflect new trends in gardening – such as the desire to ‘go small.’

In response to the downsizing of the average American landscape, Lilypons has expanded its selection of container water gardens and features, and has many smaller plants (including an 18” lotus) that allow gardeners to dabble with a water feature when they don’t have space or time for a large pond. Sometimes that feature is as simple as a small bowl showcasing a prize lily – sometimes it takes the form of a bubbling ceramic urn. Whatever you’re looking for, Lilypons can help you to find it. And install it.

As I leave this lovely place, I can’t help but stop my car along the long drive and snap more pictures of thousands of lotus just beginning their bloom season in hues of yellow and pink. They will respond to the hot days ahead with a delicacy that is breathtaking – and well worth the time taken to experience it. Who knows, a few hours here and you may just come home with a bowl and a lily for the deck….or better yet, a plan for the pond you’ve always wanted to create.

 

We’ll continue this series on Frederick County, Maryland’s finest independent garden centers
when planting season begins again in September.
Have a favorite? Tell me why at
marianne@smalltowngardener.com .

 

__________________________________________________________

This article reprinted with kind permission from The Frederick News Post.


By | 2018-07-06T21:55:16+00:00 July 6th, 2018|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

One Comment

  1. tonytomeo July 7, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    That certainly is a ‘specialty’ nursery.

Leave a Reply